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A superhero creator’s angst-y perils make this tale a strong start to a space saga.

Awards & Accolades

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In this YA debut, a troubled teenager gets thrust into the fictional superhero setting of her amateur storytelling efforts, where the conflicts, creatures, and characters she fashioned put her in grave danger.

Playwright Portman’s SF/fantasy novel might remind genre readers of Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart franchise. Olive Joshi, 16, is on a stressful plane trip to her grandmother’s memorial ceremony in India. Grandmother was a successful writer, and Olive, in her ever present notebook, seeks to create her own fantasy realm, that of a young, seemingly invulnerable Wonder Woman type named Coseema. The superhero is really an idealized version of Olive—battling boundless malice (her own evil prince brother, Burnash, in fact) in a planetary system of rapidly degrading twin suns and rival kingdoms reduced to subsistence by solar disasters. During a crescendo of bad-weather turbulence over Alaska mirroring her emotional upset, Olive locks herself in the plane’s restroom and suddenly finds herself inside her own journal and its draft story of Coseema. Now, the novice writer is stranded on the “Musing Moon” of her narrative, where magical artists, high-tech storm troopers, amazing creatures, and Coseema really exist. One might think that as an author inside the world she created, Olive would wield immense powers and insights, but the reverse seems to be true. When she loses Coseema’s protection, the sun-scorched worlds and their tormented inhabitants are a dangerous place indeed. Olive carries the additional burden of guilt that, as the one who dreamed it all up, this universe’s predicaments and agony are her fault. The Lucasfilm-esque milieu, blending magic with exobiology, astrophysics, and a painless layering of multiculturalism, is a tantalizing one. Portman adds a layer of emotion via Olive’s struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety, which impinges on the storyline in a more meaningful way than just checking a box in the character mental health problems column. YA readers raised on various permutations of the superhero mythos should be enthralled by the Coseema/Olive dichotomy in this metafictional series opener. Even older, jaded genre readers, griping that L. Ron Hubbard hit on this scenario first in Typewriter in the Sky (1940), could be thrown by the plotline’s chain of bang-up jolts in the concluding pages.

A superhero creator’s angst-y perils make this tale a strong start to a space saga. (author's note, author bio)

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-99-592042-2

Page Count: 324


Review Posted Online: June 23, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2021

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From the Powerless Trilogy series , Vol. 1

A lackluster and sometimes disturbing mishmash of overused tropes.

The Plague has left a population divided between Elites and Ordinaries—those who have powers and those who don’t; now, an Ordinary teen fights for her life.

Paedyn Gray witnessed the king kill her father five years ago, and she’s been thieving and sleeping rough ever since, all while faking Psychic abilities. When she inadvertently saves the life of Prince Kai, she becomes embroiled in the Purging Trials, a competition to commemorate the sickness that killed most of the kingdom’s Ordinaries. Kai’s duties as the future Enforcer include eradicating any remaining Ordinaries, and these Trials are his chance to prove that he’s internalized his brutal training. But Kai can’t help but find Pae’s blue eyes, silver hair, and unabashed attitude enchanting. She likewise struggles to resist his stormy gray eyes, dark hair, and rakish behavior, even as they’re pitted against each other in the Trials and by the king himself. Scenes and concepts that are strongly reminiscent of the Hunger Games fall flat: They aren’t bolstered by the original’s heart or worldbuilding logic that would have justified a few extreme story elements. Illogical leaps and inconsistent characterizations abound, with lighthearted romantic interludes juxtaposed against genocide, child abuse, and sadism. These elements, which are not sufficiently addressed, combined with the use of ableist language, cannot be erased by any amount of romantic banter. Main characters are cued white; the supporting cast has some brown-skinned characters.

A lackluster and sometimes disturbing mishmash of overused tropes. (map) (Fantasy. 14-18)

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2023

ISBN: 9798987380406

Page Count: 538

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 9, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2023

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From the Giver Quartet series , Vol. 1

Wrought with admirable skill—the emptiness and menace underlying this Utopia emerge step by inexorable step: a richly...

In a radical departure from her realistic fiction and comic chronicles of Anastasia, Lowry creates a chilling, tightly controlled future society where all controversy, pain, and choice have been expunged, each childhood year has its privileges and responsibilities, and family members are selected for compatibility.

As Jonas approaches the "Ceremony of Twelve," he wonders what his adult "Assignment" will be. Father, a "Nurturer," cares for "newchildren"; Mother works in the "Department of Justice"; but Jonas's admitted talents suggest no particular calling. In the event, he is named "Receiver," to replace an Elder with a unique function: holding the community's memories—painful, troubling, or prone to lead (like love) to disorder; the Elder ("The Giver") now begins to transfer these memories to Jonas. The process is deeply disturbing; for the first time, Jonas learns about ordinary things like color, the sun, snow, and mountains, as well as love, war, and death: the ceremony known as "release" is revealed to be murder. Horrified, Jonas plots escape to "Elsewhere," a step he believes will return the memories to all the people, but his timing is upset by a decision to release a newchild he has come to love. Ill-equipped, Jonas sets out with the baby on a desperate journey whose enigmatic conclusion resonates with allegory: Jonas may be a Christ figure, but the contrasts here with Christian symbols are also intriguing.

Wrought with admirable skill—the emptiness and menace underlying this Utopia emerge step by inexorable step: a richly provocative novel. (Fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: April 1, 1993

ISBN: 978-0-395-64566-6

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1993

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